Paris, Mon Amour: Kate Betts ’86 Remembers Her Years in the City of Lights

Kate Betts ’86

Kate Betts ’86

As her senior year at Princeton came to a close, Kate Betts ’86 found herself without a plan for her future. “So many people around me seemed to know exactly what they wanted to do, and I had no idea,” she recalls. An aspiring journalist, she decided she would move to Paris.

In My Paris Dream: An Education in Style, Slang, and Seduction in the Great City on the Seine, Betts — a former editor at Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar — recalls her five years in Paris absorbing everything she could about how the French cook, dance, and dress. When she first arrives, she hunts fruitlessly for work, eventually landing a short-term newspaper internship and then freelancing until she gets a job at industry bible Women’s Wear Daily, which was run by John Fairchild ’49. She becomes a top fashion reporter, visiting Yves Saint Laurent’s studio, befriending Christian Louboutin when he is an unknown shoe designer, and learning to follow fashion’s commercial calendar, which means orchestrating photo shoots for winter clothes in the summer heat. Along the way she tries mightily to fit in with her French friends and colleagues, though she often felt “self-consciously American,” and hones her reporting skills and industry knowledge until she is recruited to work at American Vogue by Anna Wintour. Continue reading

#ThrowbackThursday: ‘WPRU —The Bottom of the Dial for the Tops in Style’

PAW Archives

PAW Archives

In 1950, station manager James Leslie ’52, pictured above, hosted an open house at the recently refurbished studios of WPRU, the student-run radio operation then in its 10th year. Broadcasting at 540 AM, the station adopted the slogan “the bottom of the dial for the tops in style.”

WPRU’s successor, WPRB, moved to the FM dial (103.3), but the student DJs still have the lofty aspirations of their predecessors. Later this year, the station will celebrate the 75 years on the air, and to mark the anniversary it has launched a new website,, highlighting stories, recordings, and memorabilia from the past. The site includes an audio archive drawn from an eclectic mix of  programming: an irreverent station ID from John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten), recorded in 1986; a 22-minute Q&A with composer Leonard Bernstein; and a pair of interviews with men’s basketball coach Pete Carril and senior star Bob Scrabis ’89 previewing the Tigers’ 1989 NCAA Tournament game against Georgetown.

Some of the most compelling content appears in a series of testimonials from station alumni such as Moe Rubenzahl ’74, who writes, “I told my parents I was majoring in engineering. Truth be told, I majored in Radio Station.”

Tiger of the Week: Engineer David Billington ’50

In presenting honorary degrees at Commencement, Princeton honors a wide range of notable individuals, from Supreme Court justices to entertainers and athletes. The tradition also allows the University to spotlight exceptional people on campus — a list that in recent years has included former men’s basketball coach Pete Carril and departing Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman.

David Billington ’50, right, with President Eisgruber ’83 at Commencement. (Beverly Schaefer)

David Billington ’50, right, with President Eisgruber ’83 at Commencement. (Beverly Schaefer)

Last week, a few days after his class marked its 65th reunion, longtime engineering professor David Billington ’50 received an honorary Doctor of Science degree for his inspiring work in the classroom and the lab. “[H]e introduced us to the engineering pioneers who revolutionized the world and opened our eyes to the creativity of engineering at its best,” the degree citation read.

Billington, the Gordon Y.S. Wu Professor of Engineering, Emeritus, taught at the University from 1960 through 2010. Early in his career, he was chosen to teach a class on structures in engineering to graduate students in the architecture school. The architects grew bored by the technical formulas, Billington told PAW’s Kathryn Beaumont ’96 for a 2003 feature, and clamored to “study something beautiful.” They showed him pictures of Swiss engineer Robert Maillart’s thin, concrete bridges sweeping across ravines and through the mountains of the Swiss countryside. “We all have some aesthetic sensitivity and respond to beauty in various forms,” Billington says. “But then I wanted to see if this was good engineering. And I realized that Maillart was the best technical engineer.”

Billington’s teaching celebrated Maillart and others who blended technical expertise and aesthetic beauty. And like a graceful, well-constructed bridge, his work has spanned generations: At his retirement celebration, the professor received a poetic tribute from Randy Evans ’69 and his daughter Annie ’04, two alumni of his courses.

READ MORE: The full degree citation for David Billington, Doctor of Science Continue reading

In Memoriam: Merrell Noden ’78

We are heartbroken to report the death from cancer May 31 of our colleague and friend, Merrell Noden ’78, a longtime PAW contributor. For about two decades, Merrell wrote the stories of some of Princeton’s most captivating people and programs, always with eloquence and heart.

Merrell Noden ’78 (Frank Wojciechowski)

Merrell Noden ’78 (Frank Wojciechowski)

You could tell a lot about Merrell from his articles. He was as curious as they come, happily taking on any topic we could throw at him — from word puzzles to Vietnam to mathematics geniuses. He loved running and literature and brought them together, once writing a piece for Sports Illustrated about Charles Dickens’ obsession with race-walking. He was full of good will, gratitude, and wonder, peppering his drafts with exclamation points that sometimes were deleted during editing, lest all that enthusiasm boil over.

About Professor Simon Morrison *97’s research on the composer Sergei Prokofiev, Merrell wrote: “Lucky Prokofiev! Few geniuses have had the good fortune to be served by someone as diligent and honest as Morrison.” In another piece, Merrell recalled the famous math-department teas: “What teas those must have been! It wasn’t just professors and grad students who came, but undergrads, visiting fellows, and brainiacs from the Institute.” He wrote about the digitization of books, noting that some people were questioning why we needed a bricks-and-mortar library at all. Merrell needed two exclamation points to comment on that prospect. “Aaaaarrhh!!” he wrote. “If, like me, you recall the libraries of your childhood as magical places, this comes close to sacrilege. Those libraries were warm and safe; you could spend entire afternoons opening books onto worlds you never knew existed, with the only threat being the sharp tongues of zealous librarians.”

As I re-read his emails and stories to write this note, I kept smiling.

Over the last few years, as Merrell endured the energy-sapping ups and downs of cancer treatment and it became harder for him to get around, he continued to take on PAW articles, saying they helped him feel connected to the campus and people he cared about. He submitted two pieces, well done as always, for our June 3 issue, then followed up with a warm note about the interesting assignments. His wife, Eva Mantell, said later that Merrell was quite ill when he was working on the last piece but cared deeply about completing it.

There is no number of exclamation points that can capture how much Merrell will be missed.

READ MORE: A selection of Merrell’s stories for PAW Continue reading

Scull *74 Delves into the History of Madness

Andrew Scull *74

Andrew Scull *74

Society’s understanding of what constitutes madness has shifted and morphed throughout history, but the concept itself has been a constant in civilization. Humans often look for the abnormal and inexplicable in one another’s psychology, but our ability to diagnose, treat, and empathize with those suffering from madness has been far less consistent. In Madness in Civilization: A Cultural History of Insanity, from the Bible to Freud, from the Madhouse to Modern Medicine, Andrew Scull *74, a historian of psychiatry, examines madness’ various manifestations and treatments by drawing on medical records, scientific advances, and cultural expressions of madness.

Scull uses more than a hundred paintings, engravings, and sculptures to illustrate the manifestations of insanity. His narrative ranges from explaining Shakespeare’s use of madness for dramatic purposes — “Love is merely a madness and, I tell you, deserves as well a dark house and a whip as madmen do” (As You Like It) — to introducing readers to psychiatrists such as Walter Freeman, who “made no secret of his willingness to lobotomize patients who resisted psychosurgery — because they were mad, their preferences could be disregarded,” Scull writes. He also explores the work of Silas Weir Mitchell, a wealthy psychiatrist whose famous “resting cure” was forced upon the likes of Virginia Woolf and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, inspiring Gilman’s famous short story The Yellow Wallpaper.
Continue reading

Names in the News: Taub ’14 Explores ISIS Recruiting; Gowin Exhibit at The Morgan

BEN TAUB ’14 wrote “Journey to Jihad,” the lead story in the June 1 issue of The New Yorker on European teenagers who join ISIS. Taub used money he received as a contestant on The Voice to fund reporting trips to the Turkish-Syrian border, he said in an MSNBC interview.

Influential photographer and emeritus professor EMMET GOWIN’s work is featured in a new exhibit, “Hidden Likeness,” at The Morgan Library and Museum in New York City through Sept. 20. Peggy Fogelman, the Morgan’s acting director, said that Gowin’s art has “creative and often surprising linkages with Morgan objects of widely different eras and artistic disciplines.” Continue reading